We were not among the millions of people who took to the streets of the world yesterday, in the most inspiring outburst of protest in my long lifetime … against everything vile that Donald Trump stands for.
If you were among the demonstrators, I’m inclined to ask you: Did you feel like a small part of a great movement, or a great part of a great movement?
Did it feel — from the inside — as powerful as it looked from the outside?
If you are in doubt — as I have sometimes been about my own activism — about the effectiveness of your small action, consider this beautiful bit of history by Rebecca Solnit, the best writer on hope at work in the world today, in her collection of essays, “Hope In The Dark“:
Twenty-one years ago this June, a million people gathered in Central Park to demand a nuclear freeze. They didn’t get it. The movement was full of people who believed they’d realize their goal in a few years and then go home. Many went home disappointed or burned out. But in less than a decade, major nuclear arms reductions were negotiated, helped along by European antinuclear movements and the impetus they gave Gorbachev. Since then, the issue has fallen off the map and we have lost much of what was gained. The US never ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the Bush administration is planning to resume the full-fledged nuclear testing halted in 1991, to resume manufacture, to expand the arsenal, and perhaps even to use it in once-proscribed ways.
It’s always too soon to go home. And it’s always too soon to calculate effect. I once read an anecdote by someone in Women Strike for Peace, the first great antinuclear movement in the United States in 1963, the one that did contribute to a major victory: the end of aboveground nuclear testing with its radioactive fallout that was showing up in mother’s milk and baby teeth. She told of how foolish and futile she felt standing in the rain one morning protesting at the Kennedy White House. Years later she heard Dr. Benjamin Spock — one of the most high-profile activists on the issue then — say that the turning point for him was seeing a small group of women standing in the rain, protesting at the White House. If they were so passionately committed, he thought, he should give the issue more consideration himself.
Never question your commitment, or the value of even your smallest acts and gestures in the service of your beliefs.